Monday, May 3, 2010
The Genius of Free Jazz: Archie Shepp- Three Savage Sons of Shepp
Here's a trifecta of Archie Shepp records:
Yasmina, A Black Woman (1969):
A typical Shepp album, in that it starts with a free-blazing afro-inferno heavy on repetition and blowout saxing, then shifts to something more classical but still pretty wonky. The first track here is amazing, and the rest is just great.
(from wiki) Yasmina, a Black Woman is a jazz album by Archie Shepp, recorded in 1969 in Paris for BYG Actuel records. It features musicians from the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The first track, giving
its title to the album, is a long free jazz piece by an eleven-piece orchestra; in it, the references to Africa that Shepp had experimented with only a few weeks earlier in Algiers are to be found in the use of African percussion instruments, or the African incantations sung by Shepp himself at the beginning of the track. The other two pieces, a homage to Sonny Rollins written by trombonist Grachan Moncur III and a standard, played by a more traditional quintet and quartet respectively, are more reminiscent of the hard bop genre, although the fiery playing of the musicians, notably Shepp himself, gives them a definite avant-garde edge.
Blasé (1969): This is pretty bonkers even for Shepp, and one of my favorite of his by a long shot. Very little is blase about it, obviously. Opening on a dissonant harmonica and piano "blues" with an out-there vocal performance from Jeanne Lee, you can tell from the start that this is an intense and unusual record. A lot of people grumble about the primitive, musically unsound harmonicas, playing in the wrong key-- but I'm the kind of guy who says, hell with it, let the man be wrong and see how it sounds. Who cares about the rules of music when the jazz is free?
The next track is a menacing crawl with a great opening solo from Shepp... it's all perfectly lazy, languid, even... then Lee starts in with the poetry: "...you who shot your sperm into me... I give you a loaf of sugar and you tilt my womb 'till it runs! All of Ethiopia awaits you!" It's pretty amazing, powerful stuff. It may suffer accusations of camp from time to time but its far too earnest and righteous (and, in my opinion, simply good) to qualify for such demerits. And with Shepp, it's always about passion and anger with a hint of intellectual restraint. Then the harmonica juts in, playing what may be "Frere Jacques", and the sax again gets lazy and loud all over everything, and it's a fever dream, a weird little thing that is perfect. This track is incredible.
Side two gives us the expected: a traditional with an off-kilter arrangement from Shepp, and a Duke Ellington composition, both vocal, followed by a blowout that almost feels like an afterthought until it cools down and reveals itself to have a fascinating little coda. This is a very very good Shepp album if you don't mind things getting a little weird. Why would you?
Mama Too Tight (1966): Massive, massive blowouts with little revelations of calm and big smacks of marching tunes. Not one of my favorites, but certainly an excellent record. One of those monsters that shows as much sophistication and composition as it does savage savage improvisation.
wiki: Mama Too Tight is an album by Archie Shepp released on Impulse! Records in 1966. The album contains tracks recorded by Shepp, Tommy Turrentine, Grachan Moncur III, Roswell Rudd, Howard Johnson, Perry Robinson, Charlie Haden and Beaver Harris in August 1966. The Allmusic review by Thom Jurek states "Shepp had hit his stride here compositionally... lots of free blowing, angry bursts of energy, and shouts of pure revelry are balanced with Ellingtonian elegance and restraint that was considerable enough to let the lyric line float through and encourage more improvisation. This is Shepp at his level best"
MAMA TOO TIGHT (256)
More Shepp to come. I have more.
And of course if you want his best album, go here.